Tag Archives: life after Japan

Post-JET Diaries- Part Three


“Failing is just as sweet as success. I’ve tried them both and have no preference. So open your eyes and scan the horizon. Pick a direction and don’t stop driving.” -From Autumn to Ashes

I actually do have a preference, and that’s success. But seriously, for much of my life, I have felt almost limitless. I scan the horizon, consider my options, and zoomed in, I can see only a few prospects as someone with a degree in psychology: social work, graduate school, or a monotonous office job that I would probably hate. Zoomed out, I can choose from a variety of jobs, go back to school, and do literally anything I want. It’s never too late. I’m lucky enough to have my groceries, utilities, and rent covered so if I get a job, it would be relatively easy to find a new direction. Zoomed out even more, I could apply to schools and jobs abroad, travel, anything. Whatever I decide to do, though, the most important thing is to pick something and follow through. That’s what I do when I find myself floundering. Just pick something and stick to it.

In the beginning of October, I finally finished watching the Game of Thrones series (how could I not have seen it until now?!). I had also established a routine with Erik and Shane. On the days when Erik went to work, I would watch Game of Thrones for a few hours, take a break to clean and cook, and then watch for a few more hours. When Erik came back, we all drank and smoked and watched whatever we found interesting. On Mondays, though, Shane and I always sat down to watch Dancing with the Stars. Those moments with Shane were always so nice. Then, later in the night, Erik would come home after stopping by at a store on his way back from work and he’d give Shane and I our favorite snacks: cheese/cracker/prosciutto sets or hot cheetos for me and gummy and chewy candies for Shane. I felt as though I were a part of a family, and I felt happy and at home. During those weeks in Kansas, I experienced profound feelings of contentment. I had never felt so at peace.

By the end of September, I had already been craving Japanese food. I desperately wanted to eat salted yakitori, edamame, and drink an ice-cold Asahi Super Dry. All we had in the house were various types of IPAs. So in the beginning of October, the three of us decided to try the Japanese restaurant in the next city over. I had high hopes for it, since the restaurant was popular enough to have two stores and succeed in the college town of Lawrence.

After driving for about an hour, we stepped into the restaurant. The vibe was pretty authentic; there were booths with wooden pallets on the wall, dividers, a water fountain and a bar come sushi area. But upon closer inspection, I found the wallpaper to bear some strange combination of Japanese, Chinese, and Korean characters. I was excited anyway.

We sat down and I immediately ordered an Asahi, which the server and host (there was only one guy working in the front) misheard as “sake.” I told him I wanted Asahi, the beer, and he repeated, “Oh! Asahi,” with too much stress on the first “a,” and I nearly shook my head. I ordered tuna nigiri, tempura udon, and gyoza. The nigiri was mediocre at best. The flavor was about as good as Hamazushi nigiri, except it cost five times as much, the tuna obviously had color added to it, it was cut poorly, and the rice was dry. The gyoza was pretty good, but the sauce was wrong. Worst of all, the udon was old. It was clear that the noodles had been sitting in the soup for hours as they had turned gray, and the kamaboko was dried up. I was so disappointed, and my tempura got handed to the wrong person (and was battered with the wrong ingredients). Not only did the food fall very far short of my expectations, but it took almost an hour for our food to arrive. However, all was good when the attractive cook came out, apologized for the wait, and gave us free beers.

I’ve always hated when people get snobbish about these things, but I finally began to understand what would drive someone to be that way. Of course, I can’t expect a restaurant in the middle of Kansas to produce Japanese food as good as real Japanese food, so I didn’t say anything, but I was definitely disappointed.
I stayed for another week after our visit to the Japanese restaurant, and then on the 10th of October, I headed back to Texas. The drive was okay. It was long, as usual. I felt fine when I got home, and I had an ultimate frisbee game on Wednesday. But I found myself having difficulty breathing at the game thanks to either all my chain smoking, my allergy to Erik’s cat, or both. And I was getting acid reflux.
Quitting smoking and drinking after over a month of indulging in both was quite difficult and I found myself feeling very irritable and anxious. To add to the anxiety, Erik and I were still at a loss as to what to do, though we had discussed some ideas. I felt that we were sort of floating in limbo, neither of us knowing what to do about our relationship, but we continued to speak to each other every day.
After about a week and a half of feeling generally irritable, anxious, and blue, I began to regain my energy. My respiratory system was clearing up, I was exercising again, and I began to be more productive with my time: I studied Spanish, joined the Fort Worth Japan Society, applied to the Texas Search and Rescue, attended community seminars, read through three books, began the enrollment process to the community college, and applied to dozens of jobs. I had the rest of my money in Japanese bank account wired to me, paid my bills, and hoped that my pension refund would come by the end of November. I dug myself into my community as deeply as I could.

I was generally feeling better, but the anxiety of being unemployed and not knowing what to do with Erik still weighed on me a bit. I also found myself having difficulty getting along with my mother. Though I understood that she was coming from a place of love, I couldn’t help but feel irritated, as though she felt she needed to help me with literally everything, and I felt bad for feeling that way.

I stopped missing Japan as much as I did in September. Of course, there are some things that I’ll always miss, such as the fall leaves (fall barely exists in Texas), seasonal foods like nabe, and friends.

For the majority of the month, I thought about what I wanted out of my life. What would I want my life to look like a year from now? I had a pretty clear idea, and several options on how to get there, but there was still so much uncertainty. Not having an actual job for three months, I began to feel almost like a failure. I knew what I wanted, but I still felt directionless as police applications still hadn’t opened. None of the jobs I had applied for in the last three months had accepted me.
But then, at the end of October, I finally got a job as a server at a really nice restaurant in one of the most expensive areas of the city (can somebody say TIPS?!). At first, I felt nervous, almost trapped. Would my social skills be good enough? What if I’m not cut out to be a server and I get fired? Would I be able to make enough money to pay my bills? What if I end up being a server for the rest of my life? Now, there’s nothing wrong with that, but I just really wanted to be a police officer.
After I got the job, I went home and thought about how I felt. I was anxious because the restaurant was so trendy and everybody working there seemed so much cooler than me. It reminded me of when I worked at a clothing store in college. I felt that I wasn’t cool enough, or fashionable enough for the job, and the customers often intimidated or ignored me. I really disliked that job, and I was starting to wonder if I would start to feel the same way about my new job. I journaled, and the more I wrote, the better I felt. I really needed a job and was not in a position to turn it down. And there was no reason for me to feel so trapped. Everybody I met working at the restaurant was really nice, and Texans in general have been really friendly. I could also still keep applying to jobs, maybe get a full-time office job and work as a part-time server. I could definitely use the money. I reviewed my goals. I would apply to the police department as soon as I could, though getting into police academy would take almost a year. There was no need to feel trapped. I’m just doing what I have to do.

I began to feel relieved, and then I began to feel really excited. How amazing it would be to work a job or two in this open part of my life before police academy! I began to think of all the things I could finally start buying now that I would have an income again: a new phone (my current phone is from 2012), clothes, makeup, shoes, that amazing $400 Dyson hair dryer (yeah, in my dreams!), a fireproof safe for important documents, CrossFit classes, Spanish classes, Japanese classes, the list goes on! I began to look forward to my first day of work.

That week was a good week for me: I felt as though everything was starting to come together. I got a job and was invited to a Stranger Things Binge-watching party at a lake with several other ultimate frisbee folks. I also volunteered at a Japanese festival and met some people at both events, and I had a few more events scheduled.
So I have a few directions now, and I’m not about to stop driving.

Jennifer Cerna

Jennifer is a JET alumna currently living in Texas. She is the published author of novelette My Imagined Pregnancy: A Daydream Gone Wild and several flash fiction and narrative non-fiction pieces. In her free time she enjoys exercise, food, and movies.

Post JET Diaries- Part Two


“People tell me slow my roll, I’m screamin’ out ‘Fuck that!’ Imma do just what I want, lookin’ ahead, no turnin’ back.” – Kid Cudi

I guess this period of time straight out of JET–no job, no school–was the first time I’d been truly free as an adult. The only responsibilities I had are the ones I made for myself and chose to recognize. They consisted of my family, my health, educating myself, and eventually getting a job. Other than that, my life felt open, uncomplicated. I felt like a recently emptied house, all the windows wide open. Life passed through me, unhindered.

During the last few weeks with JET, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I should do. What is appropriate? How am I expected to act? Is this socially acceptable? And every time, I realized that the best course of action would be to follow my gut. Just do what I wanted to do. So when I came upon a problem that I couldn’t solve with “What should I do?” I changed it to “What do I want to do?” This change in thinking freed me in many ways.

In the end of August, I had decided, with my new-found freedom, that I would go visit Erik for a few weeks. I got to his house on a Monday night. He was still at work, and I spent time with his roommate, Shane. Though I hadn’t spent a lot of time with Shane before that point, it was a nice opportunity for us to bond. I asked about the video games he had, and I watched as he played through a few and explained their story lines.

During the month of September, I did very little that I would boast about. I woke up in the afternoons, cleaned the house, and watched a popular HBO series or worked out. When the sun went down, Erik, Shane, and I would drink and smoke cigarettes.

But we did other things, too. We cooked food. We went shopping. We worked out and played sports. I got two auricle piercings. I visited my sister and her partner. It was a nice, relaxed, and hedonistic month. Sometimes I felt as though my life lacked purpose. Other times, I felt that it was okay because this was a break that I had wanted. This was my extended vacation.

The thing about having nearly nothing going on was that it gave me a lot of time to reflect. I thought about two things. The first was about what I wanted to do with my life and what direction I wanted to take to get there. Though my long-term and mid-term goals were pretty much the same, I found myself unsure of my short-term goals and whether I wanted to stick with the plan that I had thought out a year earlier. The second was that I found cracks within my psyche that I had been trying to deny. With nothing taking up my time, no worries or stresses, I felt as though they were large, glaring at me. So I took mental note of the things about me that I wanted to improve on and wondered about how to go about improving them.

In addition to this new space for introspection, my mindset towards my transition to the U.S. had changed. I am not sure of whether this change had been brought on by a lack of work or by the passing of time, or both.

I still found myself enamored by the friendly general public while waiting for a seat at a restaurant, buying food from the convenience store, seeing the alcoholic neighbor walk out his door. They were all willing to talk and joke, even for a little bit, and that’s something that I absolutely love about the culture here. I still found the beauty of rural Kansas breathtaking–something that I had missed since I left for college in Des Moines. This was my first September in Kansas in nine years.

But sadness had also begun creeping in. More and more often, I found myself looking at my Facebook feed, feeling as though the friends I had made in Japan had forgotten about me. I grew up a military brat, and the coming and going of friends became normal to me. So, when my friends left JET before I did, I felt sad, but I quickly stopped thinking of them. I didn’t know if that’s just me, or if everybody is like that. I began to think that it may be the latter.

I looked at photos of my friends making new friends and wondered how often they thought of me. Did I leave an emptiness or did my successor fill it seamlessly? During my more dramatic moments, I felt as though I was watching, through photos and status updates, people slowly forget about me.

I had also been having some difficulty with a few things. First, I had been applying to jobs but got nothing in return. Part of me began urging myself to actually move to Kansas, rather than visit, because I know more people there who can get me hired just so I can keep my head above water. Then, I could apply to more jobs and wait for police officer applications to open.

Second, I often found myself behind in culture. They’re very small things: a movie here, a song there. Celebrity mishaps. New words and nuances. I had no idea what had been going on in the Game of Thrones universe while I was in Japan. But other people, despite not having watched it, knew exactly what had been happening and what the spoilers were. That made binge-watching the entire series a very lonely experience. And apparently there’s a new kid on the block–basically the next Justin Bieber, I was told.

Third, I was beginning to feel the small frustrations of reverse culture shock: I couldn’t buy liquor whenever I wanted. It’s funny how the land of the free has such strict limits on when a person can buy alcohol as well as where it’s sold. Just let me drink and leave me be! Tipping was also a bit annoying. I’ve always tried to tip well, but I found that it began to really add up when I went out to eat. But it hasn’t been all bad. Parking had always been a headache of an issue in Japan. In rural America, there was so much parking available, and not all of it had to be clearly marked! I felt timid at first, constantly asking paranoid questions like, “Can I park here?” Eventually, after being told “yes” enough times, I became excited. Look at all the places where I can put my car!

That’s how September went. It was nice, but by the end of the month, I had realized that all of this freedom that at first seemed like a blessing was now beginning to feel like a burden. I had no money, no job, and no structure. I hoped that October will bring something that I needed: direction, work, my pension refund. Any two of those would be great.

Jen Cerna

Jennifer is a JET alumna currently living in Texas. She is the published author of novelette My Imagined Pregnancy: A Daydream Gone Wild and several flash fiction and narrative non-fiction pieces. In her free time she enjoys exercise, food, and movies.